Moving the race conversation to a different place

August 4, 2010

The focus of my conversations reflects my worldview,  revealing the way I’ve been socialized to see things.  I’ve been wondering what would happen if the conversation about race moved to a different place than I so often experience it.

Instead of patting ourselves on the back about the diverse number of citizens, students, employees, managers, etc.,  in our organizations, what if we asked about the experiences those diverse people are having in our workplaces, churches, and families? I can no longer participate in pats-on-the-back numbers when I hear the painful stories about experiences people of color have in predominantly white settings.

Instead of talking about diversity, how about we shift the focus to how power and privilege play out in destructive ways in our institutions and culture?  “Engaging in diversity” is a fluff phrase I can hide behind instead of recognizing how  the ignorance and whims of some white people holding dominant power often control what’s categorized as “normal,” effectively isolating and marginalizing anyone who doesn’t fit that white norm.

Instead of dwelling on our intentions (“I didn’t mean to do that), what would happen if we focused on acknowledging and learning from the impact of our words and actions (“I appreciate you sharing how my behavior impacted you.”)  Good intentions are not enough. We need to listen and learn from the impact that we have on others.

Instead of being a racially reactive society (witness the Sherrod fiasco), what would it look like if we were proactive and courageous and actually began to talk about how racism exists in our culture and what we can do about it?  A friend told me that when people of color get together, discussions of race almost always happen.  When I’m in groups of white people, discussions of race almost never happen.

As a white person, I know I’ve learned ways to control the race conversation in ways that keep the status quo of my experiences firmly in place. Enough of staying in place; we get nowhere with that process.  Let’s move.  Let’s move ourselves and move each other towards a bolder way of speaking truth so that the shackles of racism may be broken.

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